By Harry Mottram: It will be 20 years this April since BBC Radio 4’s Today programme led with the strange story of a stranger entering our house and creating confusion, violence and disbelief. The Gulf War had just ended and the media had been saturated with the horrors of the war and I’m sure they saw our quirky story of a man entering our house and falling asleep in our son’s bed while he was at a party as light relief. It wasn’t for us.
It had gone midnight and Linda and I were fast asleep when Giles woke us up. “Dad, why have you let one of your friends sleep in my bed?” Confused, I struggled to understand what he meant. Giles had been to a party in nearby Cheddar and had come home to find a stranger in his bedroom fast asleep. “What do you mean?” I replied, “I wouldn’t let a friend sleep in your bed – I don’t know who it is.” And without further ado we trooped upstairs to find a fully dressed man of about 30 fast asleep on Giles’ bed.
We were dumbfounded. “Who is he?” asked all of us. I shook the man who was on top of the duvet, and he just groaned. Linda said he stank of drink and told me to phone the police as he could be dangerous. It was the oddest 999 call I’ve made. I asked to be put through to the police.
“This may sound odd,” I said, “but there’s a strange man come into our house and we can’t wake him up.” There was the sound of puzzlement on the other end but after giving more details they realised it could be serious and despatched a patrol car. And within minutes they arrived.
A female police officer came up the stairs and looked at the man – she shook him as I had and shouted at him. Nothing. She opened his jacket pocket and took out a wallet and looked at a bank card. “He’s called Mark Norley,” she said, “do you know him?” The name rang a bell. We had been in our house for seven years, but we still sometimes got post for him. Mark Norley was the son of Dymphna Audcent who we’d bought the house from. “Yes,” and I said, “and I know where she lives.”
A second police officer asked what did we want to do – charge him or take him to his mother’s home up the road in Axbridge. Charging him meant a long drive to Bridgwater in the middle of the night – and paperwork – taking him up to his mum’s was the obvious option. But first we needed to wake him. My gentle efforts had failed – and I was concerned he might be a mental health patient who had absently minded forgotten his medication and wandered off into the night. Not so.
The female police office said he was drunk and shook him violently shouting ,”Wake up Mark!” the commotion alerted the rest of the children. Milena was convinced Aunty Kath’s husband Mark from Yorkshire had somehow arrived out of the blue. Ashley was ready to fight the recalcitrant drunk while Lawrence and Giles looked on with concern. Grabbing the intruder by the leg the police officer pulled him off the bed and then down the stairs like a sack of potatoes which finally woke him up. Now out in the front garden and staggering around the drunk began shouting and swearing at the police and at me stating it was his house. The police were having none of it and explained they would arrest him for assault if he took another swing at them – and for good measure pushed him backwards into a rose bush.
The rest of the evening seemed surreal. I in my pyjamas, the drunk in the back seat, and with two members of the constabulary we drove up Mrs Audcent’s house and I rang the bell. Finally, I summoned her and her husband Tony to the door. She must have wondered what was going on since it was 2am. The police explained and said it was up to her to take him in or he would be taken into custody and charged with being drunk and disorderly. But first there was a piece of traditional sobering up to be done. Mark had begun to come round to reality but began to deny any wrongdoing of sleep drunk walking. The police made him walk up and down along a white line in the road to prove he was drunk to Dymphna who doubted her son a researcher at Bristol University was drunk but simply confused. He was drunk was the conclusion and she reluctantly took him in and finally I could return home and the police resume their night shift.
The following day at work as the editor of Beautiful Brides magazine in Bristol I wrote up an amusing account of the incident and sent it to the Western Daily Press who ran the story. It didn’t take long for the phone to start ringing and the account to appear in the national and international press – and for that strange moment when I switched on the radio to hear the first item in a review of the papers on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to be all about our midnight episode.
They say that drunks can always find their way home – like homing pigeons – but I ‘m not so sure. It was a case of Goldilocks and the Three Bears except we were not a family of woodland bears and Goldilocks was a drunk who forgot where he now lived. Mrs Audcent summed it by saying of her son: “He’s a research scientist and a doctor so he should know better.”
The moral of the story is to lock your back door at night.
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